Sanctuary for monkeys under review
Neighbor's complaint leads to investigation of farm.
Amos Bridges â€¢ News-Leader â€¢ April 24, 2009
A case involving a meandering monkey could be the first test of a Greene
County zoning ordinance that limits the number of exotic animals that can be
kept on a single piece of property.
Although the pictures he snapped may appear amusing, Sam Nigliazzo's main
concern is the potential harm that could be done by the unexpected guest
that showed up outside his home near Brighton on April 14.
"When I knocked on the window, he lunged at me and the window," Nigliazzo
said of the child-size rhesus macaque, a resident of a nearby private animal
sanctuary. "They're nasty critters."
Nigliazzo called the Greene County Sheriff and later complained to county
planning and zoning. Both offices are investigating potential permit and
zoning violations at the monkey's home, an animal rescue farm operated by the
family of Debby Rose.
Rose gained national attention in 2006 when the local health department
banned her from taking her bonnet macaque, Richard, into restaurants. Rose,
who says the monkey helps her cope with a debilitating anxiety disorder,
claims Richard is a service animal protected under the Americans with
She sued the health department and several businesses in July. The case has
been transferred to federal court and is ongoing.
Even before the controversy arose over her outings with Richard, Rose and
her children had operated the exotic animal rescue at the northern Greene
County property -- a News-Leader story profiled the private sanctuary in
August 2006, shortly after it gained nonprofit status from the state.
At the time, the Roses had 16 monkeys -- including Reese, the monkey who
escaped April 14 -- as well as a variety of other domestic and exotic pets.
Capt. Randy Gibson said deputies counted 28 monkeys at the farm when they
executed an "information-gathering" search warrant on Friday, although the
Roses say just 24 are permanent residents.
All the animals were properly confined when deputies arrived, Gibson said.
"They appeared to be well cared for -- some of the conditions could have
been better, but it didn't appear to rise to the level of animal abuse or
something where we would seize any of the animals."
Sgt. Ron Killingsworth, who reinspected the sanctuary Thursday, said many
of the deficiencies have been corrected and the sanctuary is "more and more
Greene County Associate Commissioner Harold Bengsch said the outcome of the
investigations should clarify some murky legal issues surrounding exotic
animal ownership in the county.
"When the dust settles on this case, we'll know what we can or can't do,"
he said. "There have been other instances where there have been one or two
exotic animals, but this is on a scale that's different from anything I'm
aware that we have encountered before."
Gibson said one issue is making sure Rose obtains all the permits needed to
operate the sanctuary legally.
"Our research indicated no licensing had been obtained, none of the proper
paperwork had been acquired from the county government to be operating any
kind of animal sanctuary at that location," Gibson said.
State law is almost silent on the issue of exotic animals, but does require
owners to register their unusual pets with local law enforcement.
Animal refuges are exempt from that requirement, but only if they are
"properly maintained," according to the law.
"One monkey got loose, so at this point what we're looking at is that
there's some corrections that need to be made," Killingsworth said.
On the federal level, the United States Department of Agriculture regulates
and inspects some exotic animal owners, but the Roses' sanctuary appears
to fall outside such oversight.
"The deciding factor is if they exhibit them to the public or if they breed
and sell them," said Lyndsay Griffin, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service in Colorado. "If they don't, then we don
't have any control over them."
Other applicable requirements appear to be contained in a county zoning
ordinance, adopted in November 2007, that limits the number of animals that
can be kept on a single piece of property.
A provision in the ordinance requires anyone keeping exotic animals --
monkeys are mentioned specifically -- to obtain a "Home Occupation Permit" from
It also limits the number of exotic animals that can be kept at a single
home to two. To keep any more than that, an owner must obtain a conditional
use permit from the county.
County Planning Director Kent Morris said the ordinance is not meant to ban
"The thing we're trying to get at is to make sure the animals are being
taken care of properly and not endangering any of the neighbors," he said.
As part of the permitting process, the county can check to make sure
animals are being kept according to national standards, Morris said, and ensure
that other required permits have been acquired.
A "grandfathering" clause in the ordinance could exempt at least some of
the Roses' animals from the requirements -- properties with any number of
animals that were in compliance before the revision was adopted don't have to
But any monkeys or other exotic animals added in the last year and a half
would need permits, Morris said. If there are more than two, the Roses would
need to seek a conditional use permit.
"It would go first through the normal planning and zoning board and then
the board of adjustment," he said, meaning neighbors like Nigliazzo would
have a chance to speak for or against the exemption.
"Whatever it takes"
The Roses have made suggested improvements to the monkeys' facilities in an
effort to prevent another escape.
"We got right on that," said T.J. Rose, the eldest of Debby Rose's adult
sons and one of the sanctuary's principal operators.
He said the family-run nonprofit is a "a labor of love" aimed at rescuing
monkeys that are unwanted or neglected by their previous owners.
"Some people, they'll get a monkey and think it will be a fun pet for the
family," T.J. Rose said, explaining that although the animals can be cute
and cuddly when they're young, they tend to become more difficult when they
"That's when we take them and take care of them," he said. "People don't
know that it's not like a dog ... You have to know what you're doing to care
for a primate."
Thursday, a Greene County detective, several county zoning inspectors, a
veterinarian from the zoo and an inspector from the Humane Society of
Missouri visited the farm for a follow-up inspection.
"Everything was inspected today and the Dickerson Park Zoo vet was
pleased," T.J. Rose said, noting that family was working to provide records
the monkeys had been vaccinated and tested for various diseases.
Debby Rose said she also provided inspectors with a copy of the sanctuary's
nonprofit license, which she thinks may preclude the need for some of the
additional permits. "We're willing to do whatever it takes."
For Nigliazzo, the Roses' neighbor, the animals' welfare isn't the issue.
Afraid that his wife or grandchildren could be attacked if the monkey
escapes again, he recently bought a shotgun for protection.
"I try to get along, I try to be patient," he said, noting that visits from
some of the Roses' other animals -- wandering peacocks, a donkey -- have
been an annoyance in the past. "But a dangerous exotic animal like that, I
can't have that ... I want to feel safe to go out on my porch."
Gibson said Nigliazzo's concern is understandable.
"Monkeys, most of them, have an impressive set of canine teeth on them,"
Gibson said. "And a monkey can carry any number of diseases that are
communicable to humans."
Also of concern to the sheriff's department, Gibson said, was whether the
sanctuary was housing any chimpanzees. It wasn't.
"As much as those have been in the news recently killing and maiming
people, that's something we probably would not have tolerated," he said.
The Roses were not ticketed because of the escaped monkey, Gibson said.
"One incident by itself does not constitute failure to control. If it
continues to happen, then yes, that will definitely become an issue they will
to address, as will we."
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